Christie Blatchford: Report shows Toronto school board was wrong to heed activists and end police program

So much for evidence-based policy and decision making:

A comprehensive, three-year research project on the value of having cops in schools has provided a stunning rebuke to the decision last fall by the Toronto District School Board to abruptly cancel its “School Resource Officer” program.

The 258-page analysis, done by two Carleton University professors and their PhD students, shows unequivocally that students overwhelmingly feel safer in school — and even report sleeping better and feeling less anxiety — with SROs.

The project actually began in 2012, long before Black Lives Matter, the amorphous activist group that was most visible — and voluble — in Toronto in the fight to see the program dropped.

That’s when the Carleton research group — headed by Linda Duxbury, a professor in the Sprott School of Business, and Craig Bennell, psychology professor at the university — received funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, to conduct research on changes needed to make policing in Canada better.

Guided by a research advisory board, the team eventually undertook an in-depth look at the Region of Peel next door to Toronto.

There, Peel Regional Police has had SROs in every high school in both public and Catholic systems for more than two decades, and since the program now costs the police $9 million a year, they and the school boards wanted to know, did it work?

Researchers selected five schools that would reflect the diversity of the sprawling region itself: two were so-called “urban-grant” schools and were in socio-economically deprived parts of the region; one was in a wealthy area; two were located in middle-class districts.

Four of the five schools had ethnically diverse student bodies.

The project was a longitudinal (from 2014-2017, multi-method (quantitative, qualitative and ethnographic analysis, as well as a Social Return on Investment or SROI analysis) case study to “identify the value,” or not, of the SRO program.

(SROI analysis is a measurement tool that helps organizations to understand and quantify the social, environmental and economic value they’re creating.)

That meant researchers used both longitudinal survey data from two groups of more than 600 Grade 9 students each at two times of the year – the first, as they came into high school from elementary schools where they are no SROs, and the second, five months later, as they were about to move out of Grade 9 – and in-depth interviews with eight students, all volunteers, and none of them Caucasian.

Responses were confidential; ethics clearance was obtained from Carleton and the two school boards; a note was sent home to parents telling them about the study and offering them the chance to withhold consent.

Only three sets of parents did.

The thinking was, if the goal of the SRO program is to create a safe learning environment, the students about to leave Grade 9, who’d had five months of being in a school with an SRO, should report feeling safer.

Well, did they ever.

All students benefited one way or another by having an SRO, regardless of their gender, or whether they’d ever been arrested or stopped by the police, or whether they had been victimized. “All students … indicated that they felt significantly safer at school and less stressed and anxious” after five months’ exposure to the SRO.

And the more contact a student had with an SRO, the more likely he or she was to see the program in a positive light — and fully 75 per cent of the students felt safer because of the SRO.

Even those who had been arrested or stopped by cops “are significantly more likely than those who have not to report that they feel safe at school and less likely to experience stress and anxiety at school because they are fearful of being bullied or harassed.”

The ones who had been victimized — about 16 per cent — “are one of the greatest beneficiaries of the SRO program and can expect to gain the most from the presence of police in the high schools.”

Even with the SROs, the research found that bullying, particularly by gang members, particularly for kids on the way to and from school, is a real issue for many students in Peel Region. One can only imagine how scared some of those students might be if their schools didn’t have an SRO.

Oh, wait: You don’t have to imagine.

When the Toronto board cancelled its SRO program last fall — it had run in 45 schools — on the basis of anecdotal allegations it was racist and against its own report, which found that the majority of students liked the program but some felt targeted or uncomfortable, it abandoned evidence-based decision-making and effectively hung its students out to dry.

And by the way, using the SROI analysis, the Carleton research found that the social and economic value of having cops in the five schools cost Peel Police $660,289.

The return — that students feel safe, are engaged, can more easily embark on young adulthood successfully, while the community around the school feels safer, etc., etc. — yielded a total present value of $7,349,301.

In other words, for every dollar invested in the Peel SRO program, a minimum of $11.13 of social and economic value was created.

Toronto preferred, to use that ghastly phrase, the “fake news” of activist shouting; Peel opted for the facts.

Source: Christie Blatchford: Report shows Toronto school board was wrong to heed activists and end police program

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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